Skip to main content

Understanding God's Plan

Harav Yehuda Amital
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Student Summaries of Sichot of the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



This shiur is dedicated in memory of IsraelKoschitzky zt"l, whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th of Kislev. 
May the world-wide dissemination of Torah through the VBM be a fitting tribute to a man
whose lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.





Understanding God's Plan


Summarized by Shaul Barth

Translated by Kaeren Fish



Our parasha opens with the verse, "Yaakov dwelled in the land of his fathers' sojourning, in the land of Canaan" (Bereishit 36:1). The Midrash comments, "Yaakov wanted to dwell in tranquility – therefore the turmoil of Yosef came upon him" (Bereishit Rabba 84:3). At first this seems puzzling: what was so bad about Yaakov wanting to live in peace and quiet? After all the trials and tribulations that he had endured, finally he had come back to his land and was looking forward to the possibility of living out his life in peace. Why was this problematic?


Throughout these parashot, we see how Yaakov's life was complicated by the fact that he stole Esav's blessing. Even at the very start of this chain of events - as he stands before his father, disguised as Esav - he thinks that he is acting as he does in order to receive "the blessing of Avraham," but instead he hears from his father, "You shall be a lord to your brothers." Yaakov did not want this blessing; why would he want to be a lord over Esav? Ultimately, he discovers that he would have received the blessing that he really wanted anyway, and all the deception that he employed was unnecessary. Thereafter Yaakov is accompanied by a constant sense of obligation to compensate Esav for the injustice that was caused to him.


During Yaakov's stay with Lavan, when he discovers that he has received Leah in marriage instead of Rachel, Lavan tells him: "It is not done in our place, to give the younger [in marriage] before the elder" (Bereishit 29:26). Yaakov understands the hint to the deception that he employed in taking the birthright from Esav, his elder brother, and stealing his blessing. Afterwards, too, when Lavan cheats him out of his rightful payment, Yaakov regards this as punishment for his deception.


When he eventually meets Esav face to face, Yaakov humbles himself before him and calls him "my master;" the commentators explain that through this act, he returns the stolen blessing to Esav and tries to compensate him for the injustice he has suffered. By humbling himself, Yaakov tries to say that he made a mistake in stealing the blessing, and that he has no need for the status of being a "lord" over Esav – in fact, quite the contrary. Yaakov views even Reuven's violation of his marital relationship as punishment for having stolen Esav's blessing. After all, Yaakov, too, tried to intervene "by force," as it were, in his father's actions, and compelled him to give the blessing to him instead of to Esav.


For this reason, after all of Yaakov's efforts to repay Esav, and all the punishments that he sees himself experiencing as a result of stealing the blessing in the first place, he finally returns to Eretz Yisrael and believes that he will now be able to live in peace; that his act has now been atoned for. But God shows him that his measure of punishment is not yet complete; he is subjected to the agony of losing Yosef. As the Midrash teaches, the years that Yaakov lives with the "loss" of Yosef equal the years during which Yitzhak did not see Yaakov after the latter was forced to flee following the theft of Esav's blessing. Yaakov understands all of this; he reads the events correctly, perceives all that happens to him as punishment, and accepts his punishment with love.


His sons, however, have an altogether different perception of events. All of Yaakov's children think they know what is "supposed" to happen in the future; each performs God's calculations – and terrible things happen as a result of this. The brothers believe that the Divine will requires that Yosef be banished; therefore they carry out terrible deeds "for the sake of heaven" – in order to cause the "Divine plan" to be realized. Yosef acts with similar motivation: because he believes that God wants his dreams to be fulfilled, he fails to send Yaakov any message, throughout all the years of their separation, letting him know that he is alive and well in Egypt. He even has Binyamin brought down to Egypt – at the expense of the anguish that this causes to his father – in order that his dreams will be fulfilled. But neither Yosef nor his brothers understand the Divine plan correctly. God takes care of His own accounts and His own plans; no one should act with force for the sake of bringing about God's plans as he sees them.


"The actions of the forefathers are a sign for their descendants." We must act in light of the values that we learn from the Torah. The story of Yosef and his brothers teaches us that reading the Divine map should cause us to engage in teshuva – as did Yaakov, when he understood that all that was happening to him was a punishment. But we should not try to hasten the Divine plan, or presume that we have grasped the underlying nature of the processes that we see taking place in reality, to the point of intervention and an attempt to influence them.



[This sicha was delivered on leil Shabbat, Parashat Vayeshev 5765 (2004).]

This website is constantly being improved. We would appreciate hearing from you. Questions and comments on the classes are welcome, as is help in tagging, categorizing, and creating brief summaries of the classes. Thank you for being part of the Torat Har Etzion community!